The Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society is currently launching an 18-month study into the tension between innovation and imitation in the Digital Games Industry. In this project, we understand imitation as a basic social practise that informs our learning and making. This seems to be particular true for the gaming industry: Entire game genres (think platform sidescroller games or first person schooters) have emerged by re-making and extending on great games. While the view that imitation is a constituent part of innovation seems to be shared throughout the industry, recent tussles over alleged »clones« have sparked lively discussions about legitimate and illegitimate imitation practises in game development. Given a legal context that is far from being clear on these issues, studios and publishers face a considerate amount of uncertainty regarding the question which practises are deemed fair or legitimate.

Are there implicit norms that are shared across the industry or within specific communities? How do designers, programmers, artists and marketers themselves draw the fine line between legitimate inspiration and illegitimate plagiarism? How do they react when seeing their ideas being taken up? What is the role of legal instruments (copyright, patents, trademarks) in this matter? Building on pre-studies analysing online discussions and industry handbooks, the study investigates these by means of qualitative interviews with different stakeholders from the sector.


  • Sarah Herweg and Christian Katzenbach: “Stabilizing and Contesting the Instable through Discourse: Attributions of Imitation and Innovation in the Digital Games Sector.” 6th Workshop of the International Society for the History and Theory of Intellectual Property (ISHTIP) “Instability of Intellectual Property”. Uppsala University, Sweden, 2 – 4 Juiy 2014.
  • Sarah Herweg, Christian Katzenbach and Lies van Roessel: “Negotiating the Boundaries of Game Imitation: From Pong to Ridiculous Fishing.” DiGRA 2014. Annual Conference of the Digital Games Research Association. Salt Lake City, Utah, 3 – 6 August 2014.